New York: A 45-year-old Indian-origin dean of a prestigious US law school has resigned from his post, days after a lawsuit was filed against him by his executive assistant alleging that he sexually harassed her over a period of several months.
Sujit Choudhry, had initially taken an indefinite leave of absence after the lawsuit was filed earlier this week but the Berkeley Law School announced that he had resigned from his post and his resignation was accepted on Thursday.
Choudhry had also "admitted" in a campus investigative report, dated July 2015, that he had hugged and kissed his executive assistant but there was no "sexual intent" to his conduct towards her. The school admitted that criticism against it for not removing Choudhry from his post immediately after the allegations had surfaced is legitimate.
The victim filed the lawsuit this week in Alameda County Superior Court in California that sues him for sexual harassment, failure to prevent harassment, retaliation, infliction of emotional distress and assault. The lawsuit alleges that Choudhry hugged and kissed her almost daily and the harassment began in September 2014 until March 2015.
The July 2015 campus investigative report corroborated the claims made by the victim and also said that Choudhry "admitted" to hugging, kissing her on the cheek, touching her shoulders and arms from behind while she sat at her desk, squeezing her arm when he passed by her desk and holding her hands to his waist.
He however "defends" his actions saying there was no "sexual intent" to his conduct towards her and instead it was a way to express gratitude" to Sorrell, the investigation report said. The report, which did not name the assistant, said that she had written a six page email in March 2015 to Choudhry detailing her objections to "rude and demeaning conduct and sexual harassment" by him towards her, "including unwelcome touching and kissing."
The investigation report had concluded that "By a preponderance of the evidence," Choudhry had "violated the sexual harassment provisions of the UC Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence." UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Provost Claude Steele said in a statement that they were wrong to not to take action against Choudhry even though the investigative report had supported the victims claims.
"The dean's resignation is an outcome in the best interests of Berkeley Law and the university as a whole. At the same time we are under no illusion that a resignation could or even should bring this matter and broader, related issues to a close," they said.
"It is clear, as we heard during our meeting with law school faculty this morning, that the initial decision not to remove the dean from his position is the subject of legitimate criticism," they added. New Delhi-born Choudhry, an expert in comparative constitutional law, was named the 12th dean of Berkeley Law in 2014 after a national search that considered both internal and external candidates to head one of the nation's top law schools.
As the lawsuit was filed, the school had asked Choudhry to apologise to the victim but Steele and Dirks said the university "can and must do better as a campus administration. We must move in the direction of stronger sanctions, and in doing this we want and need the broad input of the campus community."
"We are sharply focused on this issue and committed to ensuring a supportive and safe environment for every single person on this campus. We will act quickly to generate action that will produce lasting change in our culture and practices," they said.
Under the University of California's tenure policy, Choudhry remains a member of the school's faculty at present. He had released a statement to the Berkeley community earlier this week, saying he disagreed with the allegations and that he will continue to cooperate with the University in the investigation.
"While I disagree with the plaintiff's claims and allegations, and will defend against them, I am unfortunately unable to comment on the substance of the lawsuit. However, I can say that I cooperated fully with, and take extremely seriously, the University's confidential investigation into this matter and ensuing sanction. I will continue to cooperate fully with the University as matters unfold," he had said.
The lawsuit also alleges that in September 2014, the victim had told Chief of Staff and Assistant Dean Marilyn Byrne that Choudhry's "constant kisses, hugs and touching made her uncomfortable." Court documents allege that Choudhry's behavior became more aggressive and "occurred multiple times per day".